Writing Up, Cancer Markers Down

Remember the research based story about the helpless rats who were more vulnerable to cancer than the empowered ones?


Well here is a true story about ‘Mary’ who had breast cancer – and was able to put up a better resistance to her condition, once she replaced her helplessness with a sense of purpose and capability.

The story is excerpted as usual from Anti-Cancer A New Way of Life.

 “At the University of Helsinki in Finland, Kirsi Lillberg, MD, PhD, has shown in a study of more than ten thousand women that the loss of an important emotional relationship doubles the risk of breast cancer. Breakups and painful divorces may even be more directly correlated with cancer than is the death of a spouse. The loss of love causes intense feelings of helplessness in many people, possibly by tapping into psychological wounds received in childhood through experiences of rejection or criticism.

“… For Mary, at the time when Paul leaves her, the traumatic memories of her father’s departure fifty years earlier and of her husband’s twenty years earlier once again become the stark reality of the moment. She believes that she doesn’t deserve to be loved, that she’s useless, destined to fail. She feels the same sadness and weeps the same tears, her body produces the same stomach cramps and goes so far as to assume the same position – that of a little girl hunched over, her arms around her knees.

[the emotional wound leads to the stress response] “….As publications in Nature Cancer Reviews and The Lancet have shown, these physiological stress mechanisms can contribute to the growth and spread of cancer.

“In Mary’s case, her doctor found a simple and direct way to rekindle her inner strength. Since she was a journalist and a published author, he encouraged her to write down the story of her passion and its devastating failure….As the story flowed through her fingers on the keyboard, she felt gradually restored to life. After her new book was published, she returned to see her doctor. Not only had she left behind her ideas of suicide, but her cancer markers had returned to a perfectly normal level. Having a focused, attainable goal had empowered Mary to let go of the illusion of helplessness and recover her desire to live.”

The lesson here is not that you should write to fight cancer. That works for writers. On an individual basis, cancer fighters need to choose an activity that is rich in meaning for them. For some that might be academic work, for others charity work for a cause dear to their hearts. For some it might mean carrying on with work and family life and cherishing every day, investing as much as possible in the joys and rewards of the moment.

We’ll come back God willing, to the concept of “activities rich in meaning,” in future. Why? Because for those of us who are well, having goals that we are working towards which are rich in meaning for us as individuals (and this has nothing to do with the expectations of others!), is associated with better mental health and resilience.

After all these inspiring excerpts, how many of you have bought yourself and your loved ones a copy and started to make meaningful lifestyle changes?

I don’t write merely to inform but to persistently prod, motivate and inspire! Do let me know if I’m making a difference!




Helpless Rats, Empowered Rats and Cancer

You might have heard of the Type A personality whose aggression and tendency to be not only competitive but hostile, leads to an increased heart attack risk. This is not surprising as the human organism is a completely integrated entity.

Our thoughts influence our moods. Our moods influence our neuro-hormonal response. Our hormones influence our mood. Our mood influences our thoughts. Our thoughts influence our choices and actions – and hence our lives.

The very least we could do then is take control of our thoughts!

The Type C personality is not as well known, perhaps because the evidence for linking cancer to personal disposition is not as robust.

What’s more, the Type A personality is also one we are happy to knock as his or her attitude can be downright annoying or even distressing to those of us who are easy going and peace loving.

By contrast, the Type C personality is one we’d rather not blame for inducing his or her cancer. After all, the Type C persona is definitely Mr. Nice Guy or Ms. Sweet Gal. These are the really precious saintly types who sacrifice their own needs, deny  and suppress their own feelings of anger, resentment or abandonment, to the point where they and certainly everyone else, might just believe that they’ve never harboured such feelings at all.

While the link between the Type C personality and cancer is not scientifically sound, one element of the Type C persona has been identified as playing a role in the onset and progress of cancer: helplessness.

What’s the link?

Here’s the rough summary: the very good, obedient child who grows up without love or emotional security, may learn to live his or her life to please others, fearful of rejection and hoping for love. This continues through life, till one day, the foundation of this behavior is shaken. Despite his or her best efforts there is a divorce, a demotion or joblessness, or maybe an ungrateful adult child who leaves the nest and doesn’t looks back. Here is where the process of desperately seeking security crumbles into helplessness and as the Type C person gives up emotionally so does their immune system.

Move out hope. Move in cancer.

It sounds too simple to be true. After all, cancer becomes established when the sum total of cancer promoters outweighs the sum total of preventers. Everything we’ve written about in this series indicates that the factors: both the promoters and preventers are several – and we are still counting. So it is never simple.

Clearly, positive, optimistic, self-assured individuals with no history of emotional childhood trauma also face the diagnosis of cancer.

Could our mental outlook really be an independent risk factor?

Our first excerpt on this subject is not meant to convince you, though it should make you go, “hmmmmm.”

“At the University of Pennsylvania…rats were grafted with the exact quantity of cancer cells known to induce a fatal tumour in 50 percent of them…the rats were divided into three groups…In the first group, the control group, the animals received the graft but were then left to live their lives as usual ….in the second group the rats were given small, random electric shocks which they had no control over. The animals in the third group were given the same random shocks but were provided with a lever that they quickly learned to press to avoid getting extra shocks.

Pessimism and helplessness go together

“The results, published in Science, were very clear. One month after the graft, 54 percent of rats had successfully rejected their tumour. The rats subjected to shocks with no means of escape had become despondent. They would not fight against intrusions into their cage, and lost their appetite for food and sexual partners. Only 23 percent of these rats managed to overcome their cancer. The most interesting group was the third one. Though they were submitted to the intense stress of the same number of frequent electric shocks, having learned that they could avoid extra shocks by pressing a lever, these animals did not become despondent. They remained feisty when intruded upon, ate well, and copulated as frequently as rats do in a normal environment. And in that group, 63 percent successfully rejected the tumour, more than the rats left alone. It seems that the helplessness was capable of hastening the tumour’s spread, not the shocks themselves.” *

This was published in Science in 1982. Other studies demonstrating the relationship between the progress of cancer and unmanageable stress, leading to helplessness have since followed.

As we’ll see from future excerpts  the human experience does resemble that of the rats.

* excerpt taken from Anti-Cancer A New Way of Life by Dr. David Servan-Schreiber